Women are forced to spend large parts of their day fetching water. Poor farmers and wage earners are less productive due to illness, health systems are overwhelmed and national economies suffer. Without WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), sustainable development is impossible.
Improving access to safe water and sanitation facilities leads to healthier families and communities. However, when people are also motivated to practice good hygiene – especially hand-washing with soap – health benefits are significantly increased. Because the evidence on the importance of hand-washing with soap is clear.
Without WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), sustainable development is impossible.
The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme advocates and supports an integrated approach to improved water supply, sanitation and hygiene in order to achieve positive results on health. Information, education and communication (IEC) materials have been produced for hygiene education at community level and hand-washing campaigns were
launched in various States during the past two years to raise community awareness on improved hygiene practices and knowledge. Particular attention is given to hygiene education in schools, training of teachers and students and the establishment of School Environmental Health Clubs and applying child-to-child approach for effective student/child/community role in support and promotion of safe hygiene practices among their peers and within their community.
WASH and Health
Diseases related to water and sanitation are one of the major causes of death in children under five. Without access to clean water and basic toilets, and without good hygiene practices, a child’s survival, growth and development are at risk.
Over 800 children under age five die every day from preventable diarrhoea-related diseases caused by lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Undernutrition is associated with repeated diarrhoea or intestinal worm infections as a direct result of inadequate WASH conditions. A vicious cycle exists between diarrhoea and undernutrition, especially for children. Children with diarrhoea eat less and are less able to absorb nutrients from their food; in turn, malnourishment makes them more susceptible to diarrhoea when exposed to human waste. Poor sanitation and hygiene have also been linked to stunting, which causes irreversible physical and cognitive damage. In 2014, 159 million children under five were stunted: that’s 1 in 4 children worldwide.
Millions of other children are made sick, weakened or are disabled by other water- and sanitation-related diseases and infections including cholera, malaria, trachoma, schistosomiasis, worm infestations and guinea worm disease.
WASH and Education
Access to clean water and basic toilets, as well as good hygiene practices, play an important role in education. Many children — mostly girls — spend hours every day collecting water and miss out on the opportunity to attend school. Globally, women and children spend around 200 million hours every day, collecting water. But the issue is not just lack of access to water; lack of access to basic toilets, and gender segregated toilets, in schools cause a multitude of issues. Adolescent girls are particularly affected by this, as they need a clean and private space to be able to manage their menstrual hygiene with privacy and dignity.
WASH affects more than just the ability of children to attend school. Many children suffer physical and cognitive damage from water- and sanitation-related diseases that impact their performance at school and their overall educational attainment.
WASH and Economics
The impact of poor WASH conditions extends beyond health and education, and impacts on the economy through health spending and labour division. If we were able to provide basic, low cost water and sanitation facilities to countries in need, the world would save around US$263 Billion a year. If everyone in the world had access, the reduction in diarrhoea-related disease alone would save $11.6 Billion in health treatment costs, and would generate $5.6 Billion in labour spending.
Education and communication are important components of a hygiene promotion programme. All people have a right to know about the relationship between water, sanitation, hygiene and the health of themselves and their families. However, education alone does not necessarily result in improved practices. Knowing about the causes of disease may help, but new hygiene practices may be too unfamiliar, too difficult, or take too much time, especially for poor people. Promoting behavioural change is a gradual process that involves working closely with communities, studying existing beliefs, defining motivation strategies, designing appropriate communication tools and finally encouraging practical steps towards positive practices. Communities should be fully engaged in the process at all stages using participatory processes, and special attention should be given to building on local knowledge and promoting existing positive traditional practices.
Behavioural change is necessary not only at the community level, but among decision makers as well. All stakeholders – from politicians and government officials to field workers and people themselves – must be encouraged to recognize the importance of hygiene.